French racecar driver Hervé Poulain introduced the concept of the BMW “art car” in 1975 when he commissioned American artist Alexander Calder to paint the BMW 3.0 CSL that Poulain was going to race at LeMans that same year.
Since then, there have been 17 more art cars produced that have raced on circuits around the world. So, officially, there have been 18. Unofficially — in the strongest sense of the word — there were 19, and Sandro Espinosa’s 1987 Spec E30 lived a brief life as the unofficial 19th art car. The story begins with the car’s wild vinyl wrap.
“We got it through eBay from Japan,” Espinosa said. “When it got here, the wrap guy didn’t want to work with it because the wrap was too thick. It didn’t bend well for wrapping.”
So, he took the car to Fort Lauderdale to get the car wrapped with the eBay vinyl, and it came back as you see it in the photos. We took these shots at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, last May when Espinosa was racing the car for only the fourth time.
This is just one of the Spec E30s that Espinosa owns, and this car was the first of two he ever had built from scratch. Actually, he was having two cars built at the same time, identical builds. The first car Espinosa used to win the Eastern and Western States Championships in 2015. That car got totaled. At that point, the art car had seen three weekends of use, and had been sitting for three years.
“I currently have four. I know, it’s a problem. But you know, it works out,” Espinosa said. “This car was a really beautiful build. After we started building this for a buddy of mine, I still had another car, and then the build was going so beautifully, I got excited and said I want one just like it.”
You can see the attention to detail in how the car was built. The switches all align precisely on the dash panel. The tubing for the fire system features uniform bends and lots of attachment points, and the dashboard is even covered with French-stitched suede.
Despite being identical builds, the cars handled much differently, and Espinosa couldn’t get the car dialed in. Disconnect the rear sway bar and it would push. Connect it to the full soft setting and it would oversteer like mad. Espinosa couldn’t figure it out, and it showed at the 2017 Eastern States Championships at Sebring, because he ended up in a tire wall a couple of times.
Spec E30 National Director Shawn Meze installed a stock rear sway bar on it, which was 3 mm thinner than the aftermarket bar allowed by the rules, and that fixed the car.
When it came time to repair the body panels after all the mishaps at Sebring, he didn’t have enough wrap to do the car over again, so the photos you see here are probably the only images of the car in existence from when the car was pristine. So, if you look for this car at a NASA Southeast event, you won’t see it.
The car is now painted yellow with the Camel livery of Ayrton Senna’s 1987 Lotus. Espinosa added a tow truck after the word Camel, so now it’s known as the Camel “tow” car. Get it?
The new car is far cry from his first Spec E30, a $5,800-dollar special he found on eBay. At the time, he hadn’t even considered racing. He was just doing track days in his Porsche GT3, and he didn’t even like Spec E30s, but he figured he couldn’t go wrong for the price.
“I get in it for the first time, and I got on the phone with a buddy of mine who had shown interest in my GT3 and I was like, ‘Hey man, you want to buy my car? OK, sold,’” Espinosa said. “All this while I was sitting in the seat of my Spec E30. That was 2012.”
Three championships later, Espinosa is still enjoying the class he never imagined racing in with a car he never wanted to drive in the first place. You won’t see the art car in this wild wrapped livery anymore, but you’ll never find a bigger smile at the racetrack than Espinosa’s.
“It got a little serious for a little bit, but now we’re just hanging out, having a lot of fun and getting new people,” he said. “We had 34 cars at Roebling Road in January.”
|2.5L inline six M20B25
|H&R race springs 315lb., Bilstein Sport MacPherson
|Strut Inserts Rear
|H&R race springs 570lb., Bilstein Sport Shocks
|Front: TOYO RR 205-50-15
|Rear: TOYO RR 205-50-15
|Front: Stock calipers with PFC08 pads
|Rear: Stock calipers with PFC08 pads
|Apex Masonry, Parkhurs Speed, Engine Services, Condor Speed Shop